The good times may be over for Berner, who created the Cookies brand with a friend 10 years ago.
Alex Halperin reports at WeedWeek the cannapreneur and other Cookies execs have been sued by Cookies investors BR CO and Nedco, alleging "pervasive self-dealing without regard to… conflicts of interest" and strong-arming and bullying "others into paying them millions of dollars in personal benefits and kickbacks.” Among the charges is that Berner accepted more than $1 million in diamond jewelry “as a kickback for allowing [the giver] to do business with Cookies — despite the relationship being against Cookies’ best interests.”
There are more than 50 Cookies stores around the country and world.
Berner, who was diagnosed with cancer last year, debunked the suit in a six-minute commentary on his Couch Locked Network podcast on 4/20, explaining via IG:
• "As a lot of you guys know, last year I got Stage 3 colon cancer. I literally was fighting for my life. What made that fight a lot more difficult and challenging was the fact that I was forced to fight for my business at the same time.
• "When I got sick I think a group of predatory investors saw a good opportunity to make a move on me and the leadership over at Cookies. They've attempted to sabotage my name and everything I represent and spent all these years building.
• "Not only are trying to sabotage my reputation, they're trying to remove me and current leadership from Cookies. What is Cookies without what we built together? These guys have made extremely false, harmful damaging claims about myself that are just completely not true. I really look forward to the day in court when we prove that these claims are false, that they're fucking bullshit. We have facts and evidence to back all that up.
• "I hate that I'm in this situation and I hate that more and more people in the industry end up in this situation. Because I didn't want to give into wild demands and change the way I chose to build Cookies, these guys are throwing a fit and trying to put me and my company into a corner and starve us out. Well, that's not going to happen.
• "This playbook has been ran by other people in this space - the loan to own model - and it's worked a good amount of times. But it's not going to work here because what we have built together in the last 10 years or so is so strong in my mind that nobody can take it apart. There are some investors out there with good hearts and pure intentions, that actually believe in me and everything I've done with Cookies to this day.
• "If you really take the time to think about it, what we have done since weed became legal in California and a lot of other states with the little money we have used to build what we built is pretty fucking incredible. So I want to thank the investors that are still standing with us, especially in these times, that believe in us, that believe in the vision of not just me but the leadership team, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for continuing to support us an allow us to do what we came here to do, which is to build something powerful with purpose of empowering talented and passionate cultivators, operators and breeders all around the world.
"Because I didn't want to give into wild demands and change the way I chose to build Cookies, these guys are throwing a fit."
• "The last year has been really hard for me, having to stay quiet, not being able fight this battle with you guys, because every battle I've every fought I fought with the support of you guys. Being able to speak about this is about a million pounds lifted off my chest. We're ready to fight this shit, we're ready to kick ass.
• "Shame on the people that claim they're legacy cannabis guys, that they're for this plant and really about the industry, that are cooperating with and empowering this group. In trying to remove me from Cookies - you can't even say that and make it sound right. It just kind of shows your real intentions in this business. I look forward to exposing this a lot more in further detail, but I had to address this, it's been what we've been dealing with for the last year.
• "I think what it shows is how strong we are as a brand and a company because if we've been able to build all this in the last year while dealing with this kind of bullshit in the background, being starved out without any financing and support from our older investors, what do you think we'll accomplish when we're able to rid ourselves of these investors and move on and keep the creative juices flowing without any distractions?We built something incredible, that is timeline and will last longer than myself and a lot of us watching right now.
• "Look, success is scary. When you build something like this people will come for it. I think the bottom line is they underestimated who they're up against. I don't take this shit lightly at all. This is more than just a brand, it's more than my business, it's more than just my company. This is my legacy. We've got a big fight ahead of us and I'm not scared of it.
• "Shit, I just beat cancer and I plan on beating this the same way I did by staying focused and having the support of you guys. Nothing you see with me, my life and my company would be possibl without you guys. I've been an open book this whole time with you guys about my health, my family, the bumps in the road, my struggles, my come-up. This is just part of that story. I look forward to getting this situation out of my life and continue building one of the most powerful things I've ever seen in the last 20 years, which is Cookies.